North Country delegation travels to Ottawa for economic talks

U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik (Photo — The Leader-Herald)

SARANAC LAKE — A delegation from the North Country, led by U.S. Rep. Elise Stefanik, traveled to Ottawa to meet with officials and business leaders on March 26.

Russ Kinyon, Franklin County’s economic development director, and Jeremy Evans, executive director of the Franklin County Industrial Development Agency, reported on the trip at Wednesday’s IDA meeting in Saranac Lake.

The group met with a trade negotiator for the North American Free Trade Agreement, held a roundtable with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, Parliamentary Secretary Andrew Leslie, MP, and the Conservative Border Caucus as well as U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft.

“The new ambassador is from Kentucky,” said Kinyon. “We wanted to introduce issues of the North Country.

“Our regional economy depends on our relationship with Canada,” said Kinyon. “Over 15 percent of the workforce in Plattsburgh goes to work for one of 100 Canadian companies.”

Kinyon also described the balance of trade with Canada. Eighteen percent of U.S. exports go to Canada, while 76 percent of Canada’s exports come to the U.S. Canada buys more from the U.S. than any other nation. He said the message delegates received from Canadian officials was, “We are not the problem; We are part of the solution.”

“The Canadian perspective is that we are stronger as one unit,” said Kinyon.

While President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull out of NAFTA, Craft — who donated more than $2 million to his campaign — has publicly insisted that the president wants “huge trade” with Canada.

In past statements, Stefanik, R-Willsboro, has indicated her support for keeping NAFTA and making changes under the amendment rules written into the 1994 agreement.

The delegation met with the chief NAFTA negotiator for Canada, Steve Verheul. Evans and Kinyon said they were impressed by him.